The snickerdoodles were neatly plated, arranged in perfectly balanced pyramids; the gingerbread men were set aside on a rack so that each painstakingly iced smile could dry; the chocolate chip cookies had just come out of the oven and were still filling the air in the kitchen with the comforting scent of brown sugar and melting chocolate, but still Anna was scowling as she wrestled with the lump of dough on the counter.
“Come on ,” she muttered under her breath, brushing away a loose strand of hair with the back of her hand. “Just lie flat .”
She’d been in the kitchen for hours already and had found herself in a nice rhythm, humming to herself as she’d stirred and scooped and spread bowl after bowl of dough and icing, but now it seemed that the most important item on her list was about to ruin absolutely everything.
No , she thought determinedly to herself as she set down the rolling pin briefly to rub at her hands; her fingers were starting to get stiff from all the mixing and kneading. You’re the Queen. You saved Arendelle and your sister, you brought down the dam and freed the forest, and now you’re running a whole kingdom. One stupid bowl of dough can’t defeat you.
With renewed zeal, she slathered the pin with another fistful of flour, making sure to cover every inch of the wood, before attacking the dough again. A tiny smile appeared at the corner of her mouth; she could do this, conquer any difficulties in her path, make everything perfect for--
She didn’t glance up from her work. “Hi, honey, just a second--”
“How long have you been in here?”
She shrugged, brow creasing again as she focused on keeping the dough in a perfectly even rectangle; this was her third attempt, and she wasn’t going to let even her fiance distract her now. “Oh, just a few hours. Just trying to finish everything up!”
“Anna, it’s five in the morning.”
This time she did spare Kristoff a glance before turning to pick up the bowl full of cinnamon and sugar. “Is it that late already? Sorry, I was really trying to get the cinnamon rolls ready in time to surprise you with breakfast, but…”
She bit her lip, focusing on the bowl in front of her as she carefully poured melted butter into it. She didn’t look up at him again, not even when she heard him walk from the doorway to stand beside her at the counter, nor when he laid a gentle hand on her back.
“You’re still in the dress you were wearing last night.”
“Well, y’know, it’s pretty comfy, at least compared to some of my other ones. Like the one I wore for the ceremony the other day, now that one I couldn’t wait to get out of. But this one, it’s...it’s…”
She faltered, for once at a loss for words. She stirred the mixture in the bowl for longer than was really necessary, but Kristoff still didn’t say anything. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she dared to look up at him, unsure of what to expect.
He was just watching her, brow furrowed. He was still in his pajamas, his disheveled hair falling in his eyes, jaw covered with light blond stubble; he couldn’t have been up for long if he hadn’t even shaved yet. Anna was struck with the sudden desire to lean up, cup his face in her hands, and kiss him until he stopped looking at her with that concern in his eyes; she was halfway to doing so before she realized she still had flour all over her hands and started to pull away. Kristoff caught her wrist anyway and pressed a soft kiss to her palm before releasing it.
“You couldn’t sleep,” he said, and she nodded hesitantly before sheepishly looking away, returning her focus to the half-finished cinnamon rolls.
Since coming back from the forest, since the engagement and coronation and everything else that came with it, they had both been making more of an effort to talk things through, to share their thoughts and feelings, even when it scared them. And things had been good, really good, and she knew that right now she was messing that up, but her chest felt tight somehow, like her heart was locked in a cage, and she didn’t know how she could manage to get the words out to explain herself, even if she had known what she wanted to say in the first place. Her hand quavered slightly as she started spooning filling onto the rectangle of dough, and she prayed Kristoff didn’t notice the tremor, or the way she was starting to sniffle, or the way a fat tear suddenly plopped onto the countertop.
Kristoff stepped away from her then. Not surprising, really; he was probably frustrated with her failure to explain herself and was going back upstairs to sleep until a reasonable hour. She bit down on her lip hard, trying to keep more tears from spilling over. It was just like her to mess things up yet again, and on Christmas of all days…
And then he was beside her again; she looked up in surprise to see a wooden spoon in his grasp. “Can I help?”
All she could do was nod.
He began working alongside her, carefully spreading the filling over the dough until the bowl was empty. “Now what?”
“Now we roll. Here, you take that end, and I’ll take this one...just keep it tight…”
He complied with her every order, and soon several pans full of cinnamon rolls were covered with clean cloths and set aside to rise. Anna began cleaning up the mess, scrubbing the bowls and wiping the counters and half expecting Kristoff to leave her to it; after all, he wasn’t the one who had made such a mess.
But he stayed, and he helped, not pausing until the kitchen was spotless once again.
For a moment, Anna just stood still, glancing around the room and almost hoping to find another mess to clean up. Anything that would let her put off talking things through. It was pathetic, and she knew it. And Kristoff had to know it, too. He was probably kicking himself for deciding to wander down here and getting involved-- honestly, he was probably regretting a lot of things that had led him to this point. Anna couldn’t blame him; after all, she was doing a really terrible job of...well, right now, it felt like everything.
“Sorry,” she whispered, wishing she was able to offer a better explanation.
But somehow, Kristoff didn’t seem to mind. He pulled her into a hug, and she let herself be enveloped by his broad arms and familiar warmth. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and whispered, “You haven’t done anything wrong. There’s nothing to be sorry for.”
She hesitated, unsure of how to respond. “It...feels like I did.”
Somehow, just by saying that, the tightness in her chest loosened just a fraction. The exhaustion of staying up all night in a baking frenzy suddenly hit her, and she couldn’t help but yawn.
Kristoff’s arms tightened around her. “Can I tell you something?”
“Of course. Always.”
“I couldn’t really sleep, either. That’s why I was down here so early.”
He was quiet at first, and she stole a glance upwards, surprised to see that he looked as nervous about admitting the truth as she was. Then he took a deep breath and met her gaze, seeming to draw strength from it.
“I want this Christmas to be perfect. And I’m worried I’ll mess it up.”
Anna was stunned. How could he feel that way when he had already done so much? He’d done so much for her, for her family, for Arendelle ; he of all people deserved to simply sit back and enjoy the holiday. “Kristoff, nothing you could do would mess Christmas up. I’m just so, so happy to have you here with me.”
She was surprised when he shook his head. “I could say the exact same thing to you.”
“But it’s different. I’m the one who-- well-- I wanted to have, you know, all the normal holiday stuff, except I guess I still don’t really know what normal is, so I figured I could start a new normal for us, and that I might as well start with Christmas cookies, and then I wanted to surprise you with breakfast, and then whatever else you wanted, really, and--”
Another yawn overtook her. Why was she so sleepy all of a sudden?
“Is that why you couldn’t sleep?”
“Yes, exactly. We’ve been so busy I had no time to do all the baking in advance, and it was sort of my last chance, so I figured...well…”
“I wasn’t talking about the cookies. Well, not really, anyway…”
Anna found it hard to look at him again, so instead, she buried her face in his chest and whispered, “I know.”
He pulled her closer, rubbing comforting circles on her back. “I know you want it to be perfect. But Anna, as much as I love your baking, that’s not what would make the day perfect. Honestly, I don’t think we could even eat all of this stuff, even when Elsa gets here. Not even if Sven helped us.”
She laughed weakly. “Well, I have other stuff planned, too…”
He chuckled softly, and she closed her eyes, relishing the way his chest vibrated against her cheek. “Maybe we have time for some of the rest of that. And we definitely have time for at least some of these cookies. But for now, what would really make this morning perfect for me would be if you got some sleep.”
“But the cinnamon rolls--”
“They can wait. At least while you take a nap.”
“You said you couldn’t sleep, either.”
“Fine, while we take a nap.”
He pulled away and took her hand, leading her upstairs. He paused in front of the sitting room door, a questioning gaze in his eyes. Anna smiled softly; they were both still learning the rules of royal etiquette, but honestly-- they were engaged, it was Christmas, and she was suddenly too sleepy to care what anyone thought. “We can go to my room.”
An answering smile appeared on his face as they continued down the hall. He swung the door to her chambers open, gesturing grandly. “After you, Your Majesty.”
Anna laughed and led the way to her bedroom. It certainly wasn’t his first time being in here, but he still hesitated in the doorway, a faint blush creeping over his cheeks as he resolutely looked away while she changed into her pajamas.
“You can look now,” she teased as she clambered into bed. Kristoff climbed in next to her, pulling the covers carefully over her shoulders before settling an arm over her waist.
“I love you,” he whispered, and she smiled sleepily, eyes already sliding shut.
“Love you, too,” she tried to say, but sleep overtook her before she quite managed to get the words out.